Are Arsenal Title Contenders Without More Signings?
After winning the only Golden Premier League Trophy in existence, by going an entire league season undefeated, you would think that exciting things lay ahead for the future of a football club. However, since Arsenal last won the league in the 2003-2004 ‘Invincibles’ season, their following seasons have depicted exactly how teams are always vulnerable to an abrupt change in fortune.
They are far from the only team to have had unwelcome ramifications during a club’s transformation period, with Manchester United free-falling to seventh place in the season following their most recent title success with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed, there are also significant psychological factors to overcome in a season following trophy success. Players are overwhelmed with euphoria and relief; all their hard work has paid off, and now they only have to go out and do it all again. It’s the reason that you don’t see many teams winning back-to-back trophies in the most competitive competitions, no matter how strong their squads are. Not only do the players have a psychological battle with themselves, but they’re also competing against teams with players hungry and eager to experience that elation that they have just enjoyed.
One of the only things arguably more psychologically difficult than retaining a competitive trophy is trying to win one when you haven’t managed to do so for a long time; especially when you’re a club as big as Arsenal. A fear begins to develop that the club will never reach the same heights again, and eventually, you could end up having similar struggles to that of Liverpool; a team desperate to regain their successful presence after over two decades since their last title. You begin to become associated with failure, and players are reluctant to stay or join a team that doesn’t show any signs of progressing.
Not so long ago, these were things that were all highly associated with Arsenal – a team who could become the next Liverpool. Since then however, they have broken two of the hardest psychological barriers in football, ending a trophy-less run and then retaining that trophy the following year; becoming the most successful team in football’s longest standing tournament in the process. On the other hand, it could easily be argued that the FA Cup is only the third biggest trophy, which is certainly the case, but such is the competitive nature of England’s Premier League, any season should be considered a success for a big club if they end it with a trophy and a top four finish.
Wage barrier broken, but targets fail to materialise
Nevertheless, Arsenal aren’t quite there yet as they are yet to convince people that they are back to their best. Though they certainly have shown significant strides not only with their recent FA cup successes, but with the way they are now building an exciting team for the first time in a long time. With Theo Walcott having just signed a new contract worth £140,000-a-week, not only does this show players now looking at Arsenal as a more progressive team, but those massive wages show that Wenger is willing to do what’s necessary to push the Gunners even further. No longer are they capping their wages near the £100,000 mark.
Yet that elusive question remains, can Arsenal now overcome their biggest challenge and firmly establish their status as a top-level football club by winning the Premier League? Many pundits believe that they’re close, but still one defensive midfielder and one striker away from doing so. After making the best signing in England so far with the priceless addition of Petr Cech, Arsenal fans have had to endure watching many of their desired players go to other clubs. Geoffrey Kondogbia has gone to Inter Milan, Arturo Vidal has joined Bayern Munich, and Morgan Schneiderlin has gone to rivals Manchester United. They also have a bit of a conundrum when it comes to finding their suitable striker, with the only ‘available’ ‘world class’ centre forward seemingly being that of Karim Benzema. Even then, Benzema’s agents have said that he’s staying at Real Madrid 1,000%, a percentage that Wenger joked to be “pretty convincing”.
Where do these circumstances leave the Gunners?
So potential defensive midfield recruits have come and gone, world-class strikers are unsurprisingly few and far between, and the only other strong signs of serious transfer activity has come from an influx of new youth players. Where does that leave Arsenal? Well, with the transfer window open until September 1st, there is still plenty of time for Arsenal to bring in new players, with the latest reports linking them with Sergio Busquets, Marco Reus, and still persisting with Karim Benzema. Of course, Arsenal may not get any of these so-called targets, but the fact that they are now linked with players of this calibre speaks volume to how much they’ve progressed in recent years. Though for all these suggestions of progression and signs of intent, eventually the time has to come where these improvements have to pay off with the necessary successes. Another season without a title challenge would see Arsenal’s newfound aura of positivity promptly revert back to impatience and failure.
If indeed no new significant signings are made, does that lead to an inevitable and familiar 3rd or 4th placed league finish? That is the fear that Arsenal fans will have, although that isn’t necessarily a guarantee. For Arsenal to progress with the current players that they have, then they should turn to their British core that they not so long ago publicly put their faith in by extending their contracts all at the same time. It was a literal sign of intent, a message to say that ‘this will be the future of our team, we will build our success from here’. If all of Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey can together display what their potential has always teased us with, then surround that with names like Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, and Cech, and Arsenal can seriously mount their long overdue title challenge. Relying on these players may be deemed more of a risk than going out to sign some big names that are supposedly required, but it also might be that touch of Wenger genius that once created one of the greatest teams that has ever graced the sport of football.